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How to Build a Graphic Design Portfolio Without Work Experience

Richard ClaytonRichard Clayton
March 30, 2015

You want to work as a freelance designer but you don’t know where to start.  You’ve got no clients, no work and nobody there to direct you on how to move forward. Portfolios can work for you in two ways. One, they can help convince a potential client that they want to work with you. And, two, they can help you get discovered on sites dedicated to bringing together portfolios of specific types of professionals.

So how do you build your portfolio with zero clients?  In this article I’ll discuss some clear cut, easy methods to building an awesome portfolio that will attract your perfect clients and also showcase your best work — all without having any clients.

Look to your social networks

Do you know any friends or family members who are starting up a business and need a website? Logo?  Marketing materials? Offer to barter or if they can’t afford payment of any sort,  do it for free…as long as they agree to let you design how you want . This way, you can avoid giving your time and effort away for something you won’t add to your portfolio.

Look to your local community

Does your  Yoga studio need a new site? Is your favorite local coffee shop in need of an upgrade? Offer your assistance, and be flexible and honest. Let people know you are trying to build a portfolio so you are willing to work for a barter or for a lower price. Many struggling or start up businesses will jump at the chance to get a lower cost website thanks to being in the right place at the right time.

Look to an organization you admire

Non-profit organizations are often bogged down with work and design is the last thing on their mind.  Think of this as your chance to contribute.  Show the marketing manager what a boost in design can do for their contribution rates and they’ll be jumping to work with you.

Look to yourself

If you can’t seem to line up something from a friend,  family member, or local business/ organization…make something up. Redo that site that annoys the crap out of you or create a fictional band and make a site for them. Get creative!

It often takes time to build a portfolio, and although you want to start racking in the big bucks immediately, your clients want to see past work, which you don’t have.  Don’t forget there are several pros to doing free or low-cost work:  You’ll find clients easily, you’ll work for high quality organizations, you’ll give back to your community, AND your clients will provide testimonials and spread the word about your services.

Do you have additional suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

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